Six Indians punished in Cronjeland
Terror law trouble in Advani court
Grandson sacrificed to get back son
Pulse projects put on hold
Plan to free �locked� land
Dark Diwali after tremor panic

Port Elizabeth, Nov. 19: 
In an unprecedented move, match referee Mike Denness is reported to have come down with a heavy (and obviously biased) hand against more than half the Indian cricket team. That, too, at a time the Indians are struggling to save the second Test.

While Virender Sehwag has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first player banned for a Test, icon Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh, Shiv Sundar Das and wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta have been handed a one-Test suspended sentence besides being docked 75 per cent of their match fee.

That�s not all: Captain Sourav Ganguly has been even more strongly disciplined � a suspended sentence covering one Test and two one-day internationals. He, too, loses 75 per cent of his match fee. Vice-captain Rahul Dravid, though, was left out. The suspended sentences will be in operation till December 31.

A formal announcement will only be made tomorrow morning, last day of Test No. 2, but sources in the cricket fraternity here confirmed late tonight that Denness had �gone berserk�. It�s highly unlikely that, overnight, he will have a rethink.

Nobody was available for comment, but it is understood Indian manager M.K. Bhargava has already �spoken� to board president Jagmohan Dalmiya. Apparently, Dalmiya is going to move the International Cricket Council (ICC). The match referee is the ICC�s man on the spot.

Denness had a word with the ICC brass in London before deciding on the punishment. The match referee had two sessions with the players � in the morning and after stumps (Day-IV) � before making up his mind.

The Sehwag ban apart, what will hurt most is Sachin being booked for ball-tampering.

Sourav has been disciplined for �not controlling excessive appealing�. Harbhajan, Shiv Sundar and Deep have been hauled up for doing just that.

Sehwag�s punishment has been the harshest as, last evening, he claimed to have caught South African captain Shaun Pollock (off Harbhajan) when, in fact, the appeal ought not to have been made.

It had been an unusually busy morning for the seven players (including Dravid) and Bhargava. For one reason or the other, they had to appear before the former England captain. Incidentally, that the hearings will be held was conveyed to the manager as late as 9.30 pm (local time). Denness spent �around 10 minutes� with Sachin, who was shown �incriminating� footage.

The match referee then summoned Sehwag, before calling Harbhajan, Shiv Sundar and Deep. Later, he spoke to Sourav and Dravid. The non-Sachin hearings took �about 20 minutes�.

It has been confirmed that Denness himself sought the Sachin-specific footage from TradeMark Productions, handling production of the Test series for all TV networks. This cleared the confusion triggered last night. Only, the question doing the rounds is: Did third umpire Rudi Koertzen play a prompting role?

The footage showed Sachin removing what seems to be grass from the Kookaburra ball.

According to many pros, he didn�t do anything unusual. Sachin has the shortest of nails. Moreover, as the seam is woven into the Kookaburra leather, �lifting the seam doesn�t arise�.

Sachin himself didn�t offer any comment today. However, speaking exclusively late last night, he had said: �Having played international cricket for 12 years, I know exactly what is right and what is wrong.�

Both the on-field umpires, Ian Howell and Russell Tiffin, were present when Sachin was called by the match referee, but �didn�t make a statement�. Neither had lodged a complaint. More important, during play, they didn�t change the �affected� ball.

Denness, clearly, has much to answer for. Even the ICC, which has repeatedly ignored the match referees� inconsistency. Why, for instance, hasn�t Pollock been booked for the most aggressive appealing?

Somebody should answer.


New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
The National Democratic Alliance has offered support to the Centre on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance but with a major caveat � it should be amended to remove all fears of possible misuse against the press, the Opposition and minorities.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also sidestepped the coming storm over the Ordinance in Parliament by deferring the all-party meeting he was to have presided over tomorrow and getting L.K. Advani to hold a consultative committee meeting of the home ministry on Wednesday. The meeting will be chaired by Advani and attended by representatives from across the political spectrum.

Sources close to Vajpayee said as Advani had authored the Ordinance, it was in the �fitness of things� that he should first sort out the differences in the political establishment at his �level� and thrash out a consensus before the Prime Minister stepped into the picture. With the exercise of evolving political unanimity getting prolonged, it seems unlikely that the Ordinance will be introduced immediately in the Lok Sabha.

NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes read out the resolution, which was adopted. �The NDA expressed the view that a new law was very necessary in the prevailing extraordinary circumstances and unanimously supported the Ordinance which has come to be known as Poto.

�At the same time, the NDA requested the government to take necessary steps to remove any apprehensions that it can be misused against the press, political opponents and any specific community,� the resolution said.

Advani was not present at the meeting, neither were representatives of Trinamul and the Akali Dal.

Fernandes said while Trinamul informed it was preoccupied with local body polls in Calcutta, Akali NDA representative S.S. Dhindsa was in Amritsar for the National Games. The Akalis had opposed the terror Ordinance. Asked if the NDA resolution had Akali and Trinamul backing, Fernandes said: �I can�t say about their responses.�

Another notable absentee was Maneka Gandhi, who lost her culture portfolio yesterday to Jagmohan. Fernandes said in the two-hour meeting, members shared their experiences with clones of the Ordinance like Tada and Misa and how they were abused over a period of time. He added that law minister Arun Jaitley � who briefed the meeting on the Ordinance � had said the �apprehensions were misplaced�.

Asked if members were satisfied with Jaitley�s response, Fernandes� reply was cryptic. �Since apprehensions are there, steps need to be taken to remove them,� he said. �An apprehension is only an apprehension. One can have a view on that. There�s no contradiction in our position.� However, he clarified that no specific amendments were suggested. Fernandes said the meeting did not consider the suggestion to hold a joint session of Parliament to enable the NDA to muster the numbers to push the Ordinance through.


Dumka, Nov. 19: 
A nine-year-old boy was sacrificed by his superstitious grandfather on Diwali midnight in the hope that the ritual would ensure the safe return of his missing son.

The child�s grandfather, Jaydev Singh, a resident of Kijurima village in Godda district, beheaded the boy as part of a ritual on Diwali night when Jharkhand was celebrating its first anniversary.

Acting on a tip-off, officials from the Podeyahat police station exhumed the boy�s corpse from the vicinity of the village on Saturday and arrested the killer grandfather.

An eerie calm prevailed in the village located 30 km from Godda. The hamlet is situated in the underdeveloped tribal stronghold of Santhal Parganas where superstition still reigns supreme.

A relative of Jaydev said the child, Sagar Singh, a native of neighbouring Banka district in Bihar, had come to his maternal uncle�s house in Kijurima. But Sagar�s maternal uncle, 19-year-old Mantu Singh, had left the village a year ago.

Mantu�s hapless father, Jaydev, along with family members, had tried everything to discover the whereabouts of his son. Finally, the family sought refuge in sorcery, a practice common in the region. An ojha (witchdoctor) was summoned to the house from a nearby village who performed some rituals and asked the family to offer the blood of a boy to Goddess Kali.

It was difficult for Jaydev to find a boy to be sacrificed. However, the arrival of Sagar made the job easy for them.

Many villagers told The Telegraph that Jaydev was looking �extraordinarily busy� on Diwali evening. However, none of the villagers was ready to talk about the sacrifice.

For two days, no one had any idea of what had happened. Finally, the �buried� half-decomposed body of the boy was exhumed by the police. The corpse had been shoved into a sack. Its head had been shaven and the throat slit.

A local journalist, Shambhu Singh, said Sagar was not an isolated victim of human sacrifice in Godda. In August 1998, a 14-year-old tribal boy, Temo Hansdak, was �sacrificed� in Pargodih village of Ramgarh block.

�Even today, people in general believe in such practices. Lack of education and rampant poverty encourage such social evils,� said Shambhu.

Godda sub-divisional magistrate Ram Narayan Singh confirmed the killing. Superintendent of police Baljeet Singh said the incident was a result of the prevalence of witchcraft and sorcery. �We are waiting for the autopsy report which may provide important clues,� the SP said.


New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
In the wake of the vitamin-A controversy, the Centre has asked all state governments to put on hold pulse immunisation programmes, including pulse polio.

�The department of drug control is examining the substance administered to the children in Assam,� said Gautam Basu, a senior official in the health ministry.

The death of 15 children in the state seems to have pushed the government and Unicef into a state of confrontation. The Centre and the state are passing the buck to Unicef for launching a programme they believe was unnecessary. But Unicef is pointing a finger at the government for shrugging off responsibility and not implementing routine programmes properly.

The Centre maintains there is no need for a pulse programme for vitamin-A, saying the routine programmes it sponsors are capable of taking care of vitamin-A deficiency. But a Unicef representative disputed that. �When does the government ever carry out these programmes effectively?� the official asked. �What about its acts of omission?�

The centrally-sponsored programme requires the first dose of vitamin-A to be administered to nine-month-old infants. The second dose is given along with the triple-antigen booster dose. Subsequently, every six months, the child is administered a vitamin-A booster dose. But much of the programme, Unicef maintains, does not reach the people.

Unicef is stressing that there would have been no need for a pulse programme for vitamin-A had routine government programmes been properly carried out. It is also insisting that the infant mortality rate is high all over India and that it is still not sure whether the deaths in Assam could be attributed to vitamin-A drops.

�You can go to any community and ask at any point of time � they would report deaths of one or two children,� said a Unicef functionary.

There is no doubt that one of the main reasons governments are so dependent on organisations like Unicef is the poor condition of their own public health delivery system.

In its latest annual report, the health and family welfare ministry said: �Vitamin-A deficiency, which can lead to blindness, has been widely prevalent in the country, especially among pre-school children.�

Toll mounts

The death toll in the Unicef-sponsored pulse vitamin-A programme in Assam has gone up to 20, with five more deaths reported today from Morigaon district, adds our correspondent.


New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
The government has decided in principle to unlock the vast unused land resources with the railways, defence, communications and public sector units � especially in the megapolises � and offer them for commercial use.

�It is my decision to open up this field for development. There will be a meeting of all concerned ministers very soon, which will take up this particular issue. I think the move will unleash good economic potential,� said Ananth Kumar, minister for urban development and poverty alleviation.

The railways owns about 4.19 lakh hectare of land in the country. Of this, 0.25 lakh hectare is vacant land.

In the budget speech of 2001-02, the then railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, had said Rs 200 crore will be made available for the commercial utilisation of land and air space. Fifty-three sites were also earmarked to raise Rs 150 crore.

Kumar also agreed to set up a special task force within 15 days that will advise the government in charting a road map for urban development and housing.

He has chalked out three areas � the Urban Land Ceiling Act, rationalisation of stamp duties and Rent Control Act � that need immediate attention.

�There will be a national conclave on housing, chaired by the Prime Minister, and will include all the chief ministers, finance ministers and urban development ministers to address these major issues,� he said.

Kumar stressed the need to provide housing to the low end of the society. �A portion of the profit should go towards social responsibility. Margins are important but so are activities to generate employment,� he added.

HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh suggested the elimination of stamp duty, which, he said, was the most important factor, strangling middle-income demand for housing.

�The housing sector is dependent on urbanisation. There is a total lack of planning, inappropriate policies and no state level initiatives. Simplification of land transfers, elimination of 10-14 per cent stamp duty and FDI permission in real estate will serve the purpose,� he said.

Niranjan Hiranandani, chairman of the Ficci housing and development committee, said: �FDI through the automatic route for investment up to 5 per cent with a lock-in period of three to five years will spark growth in the sector.�


Haripur (Junagadh), Nov. 19: 
While the Narendra Modi government celebrated Diwali with the quake victims, no diyas were lit in Haripur in the heart of Sasan Gir forest that has been rocked by over a thousand mild tremors.

It was a dark Diwali for Haripur where panic-stricken residents, fearing a repeat of the killer quake, fled the village after a series of tremors started rocking the village since October 26.

Haripur has been experiencing intermittent tremors of low intensity, measuring below three on the Richter scale. Panic spread through the village when the tremors increased in frequency and were accompanied by rumbling sounds. Sometimes there were booming sounds without the tremors.

On October 31, about 32 mild tremors accompanied by rumbling sounds rocked Haripur, which has been identified as the epicentre by the Indian Meteorological Department. On November 11, the frequency increased to 141.

After November 11, almost 95 per cent of the residents left for a �safer place�. Those who have remained behind sleep in the open despite fears of attacks by lions from the Gir forest.

Following a �confidence-building exercise� by the administration, Junagadh collector Sunaina Tomar said most of the residents have come back.

However, N.D. Dave, a revenue official posted in the village, refutes the claim, saying only 53 of the 448 villagers who fled after November 11 had returned.

Atul Joshi returned yesterday. However, his wife and mother are still with their relatives. �I have told them not to come back,� he said.

The Junagadh collector attributes the panic to the contingency plan chalked out by the district administration � installation of a seismograph, deployment of state reserve police, medical teams, a mobile hospital and a round-the-clock control room � to deal with any eventuality. Similar arrangements have been made in six adjoining villages where tremors are being felt.

The collector said people fled because �they are more careful this time and do not want to take any chances� especially after the killer quake of January 26.

Experts are baffled by the series of tremors and booming sounds. Bhavnagar had experienced similar tremors in August last year.

Seismic activity continues to rock Haripur and the adjoining villages. Till November 17, as many as 1029 tremors were recorded.

Dr S.N. Bhattacharya, deputy director-general of the Indian Meteorological Department, said Haripur is not the only place where such seismic activity has been observed.

According to Bhattacharya, the phenomena occurred in 30 areas in the last century. However of the 30 areas that experienced the series of mild tremors, only 4 places were hit by a major earthquake.


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